When I was growing up, my mom was in charge of the regular, daily cooking. She set out boxes of cereal in the morning before school or quickly scrambled an egg or two, made miles of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and prepared baked chicken legs and hamburger scramble until her mind numbed from the repetition. We took her meal preparation completely for granted, assuming that she would always continue to produce food on demand.
When my dad cooked, it was an occasion. He chipped in during holidays and could often be cajoled into making weekend breakfasts. Making pancakes and waffles were his particular specialty and Raina and I would beg for them every Saturday morning. He always made the mix from scratch, using a formula he had created (based on the pancake recipe in the turquoise-covered, 1971 edition of the Joy of Cooking). He was motivated to create his own mix after he spent a stint working as a short order cook at IHOP the 1970’s and, after churning out stack after mediocre stack of unsubstantial pancakes, decided he could make something far, far better. By the time I was born, he had discovered the wonders of Honey Toasted Wheat Germ and the pancake mix was on its way.
The first few cooking skills I acquired as a child came from standing at my dad’s elbow as he mixed up pancake or waffle batter. He taught me the proper way to whisk eggs and how to gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg/milk/oil mixture. I would stand next to him at the stove and watch as he greased the griddle with a carefully folded square of paper towel. He would point to the bubbles forming on the surface of the pancakes, and told me that they were ready to flip when the bubbles popped and didn’t close back up. Most importantly, when it came to flipping pancakes, you had to approach it with confidence. Worry or uncertainty would land a pancake on the edge of the griddle or on top of another cake. To this day, I hear his calm voice in my head when I turn my pancakes.
These days, I make pancakes or waffles in his style at least once a month. I nearly always have a batch of mix blended up and stashed in the back of the fridge (wheat germ gets rancid quickly and cool storage slows it down). I’ve made a few changes to the mix, adding some toasted millet and using all whole wheat flour. These days, I like to eat my pancakes with jam and plain yogurt, although I do also have a fondness dark maple syrup. Here’s how I make the mix these days…
Marisa’s version of Mo’s Famous Pancakes
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups honey toasted wheat germ (regular toasted wheat germ can be substituted if you can’t find the honey stuff)
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup cane sugar
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons baking powder
Mix it all together and store in an airtight jar or container. To use, whisk together three eggs, 1 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter. Fold in two cups of mix*. If it seems to thick, add a bit more milk. Heat a griddle to medium heat (you don’t want it to be too hot, or the pancakes will be burnt on the outside and uncooked on the inside) and oil it lightly. Cook pancakes until they bubbles pop and stay open and then flip. Cook just another minute or two on the other side. Serve with maple syrup (real only, please), jam and yogurt or honey.
*It’s at this point that I add about 1/3 a cup of toasted millet. Toasting it is easy, just spread it on a small baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Let it cool a little and then fold it into the batter. It adds a wonderful, nutty crunch.